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And All the King's Men

Chapter Text

 

Early Thursday morning found an under-caffeinated Leonard McCoy on the staging floor of Training Simulation Facility Four.  Emergency med kit in one hand and a lukewarm canteen of black coffee in the other, he sighed and looked around the empty platform.  The cadets for the sim would be there soon.  The cadre were probably already on the observation deck.  He'd have to join them in a moment, but for now, he was alone with the high ceilings, his own echoing footsteps, and his lousy replicator coffee.  He stopped walking, took a sip, and grimaced.

He'd already done this over two dozen times in the three months he'd been at the Academy – acting as the Duty Doctor for live training simulations – and there was something about it that always made him uneasy.  Maybe it was the strange dichotomy of watching cadets fighting and struggling on the training deck while he was standing alongside the placid evaluators and technicians on the observation deck.  Maybe it was because he watched cadets go into these sims without any bumps, bruises, lacerations, phaser burns, smoke inhalation, and broken bones, and then come out with any combination of those injuries, all for the sake of "realistic" training.  Maybe –

“Hey Bones!”  Out of nowhere, a hand whacked Leonard on the shoulder just a bit too hard.  A wave of coffee spilled over the edge of his canteen, but he managed to keep his grip on it.  “I didn’t know you’d be here,” Jim said lightly as he strolled just past and spun on his heel to face Leonard.  “This is a command-track training sim.  What’s a space-o-phobic doctor like you doing in a place like this?”  He waggled his eyebrows, mock-seductively.

Leonard, for his part, took a deep breath in lieu of growling and threaded his voice with a sarcastic bite.  “For your information, Jim, there’s a doctor on hand for every live-action training simulation.  I’m just lucky enough to be assigned to this one.”  He held up his canteen meaningfully before flipping the lid shut and sealing it.  “You’d better hope you don’t get injured today.”

Jim smirked, folding his arms across his chest.  “It’s a level-one hostage training, Bones.  They don’t actually start beating us up until second year.” 

That was true enough.  While injuries were not only common but expected in advanced command track training, Jim was right – there was never an intentional injury in a first-year sim.  The goal at this stage of the game was to identify strengths and weaknesses, and have the cadets build confidence.  Not that Jim has any shortage of confidence, Leonard mused. 

“Just be glad I took an oath to do no harm, kid, because if you keep sneaking up on me like that and using that ridiculous nickname, I’d take care of that for them.”  He glowered for a couple of seconds, but couldn’t quite hide the amusement in his eyes, and he knew Jim saw it, too.  He finally rolled his eyes in defeat, and Jim grinned with obvious satisfaction.

With a swagger – the goddamned kid actually swaggers! – Jim shoved one hand in his pocket and slapped the other hand across his chest as he began weaving a haphazard path, looking wistfully at the ceiling like a damned drama queen.  “Bones, you wound me, right in the heart.  My best friend in the entire solar system, and you have to threaten me with bodily injury for the use of an affectionate nickname.”

Leonard snorted.  “Affectionate?" he said with a slow drawl.  "Right.  You know, someday, you’re gonna tell me why you latched onto one stupid thing I said while drunk and irritated and turned it into a permanent epithet.”

“Sawbones,” Jim said easily while still pacing.

Leonard frowned.  “What?”

“You like to claim you’re an old-fashioned country doctor.  In ancient times, that was a nickname for doctors.  Sawbones.  Because that’s what they did.”

Unable to prevent it, Leonard’s eyebrow raised in surprise.  He shouldn’t have been surprised, of course.  Jim was a walking, talking encyclopedia, and had a knack for popping out with random information that anyone else would have forgotten long ago.  “I won’t ask how you know that.”

Jim shrugged, still pacing casually.  Damned kid doesn’t know how to hold still, either.  “I just remember shit.  So anyway, that’s why you’re Bones, Bones.  You gave me the idea, but that’s why it stuck.”

“Unstick it.”

“Nope.”  He paused barely a few inches away from Leonard and threw a smug sideways glance at his friend, almost close enough to be intimate if it was anyone else.  Jim… well, he just had no sense of personal space.  “Besides,” he said in a low tone, “you’re about to be treated to a fine performance of me rescuing whoever becomes our hostage today.  Hero shit and all that.  Just enjoy the show, and maybe we’ll grab lunch after this is over.”

The sound of conversation and boots against the plascrete floor told Leonard that other cadets were beginning to file into the staging area for the simulation.  Jim noticed as well, so he winked, took a step back, then turned and hustled off to join his command-track classmates.  As Jim walked away, Leonard watched him, frowning.  He shifted his grip on the handle of his med kit, flipped open his coffee canteen, and took another swig of caffeinated bitterness as he considered the bizarre yet addictive presence that was Jim Kirk.

Jim milled casually with the other cadets, and he looked so comfortable with them – brushing shoulders, laughing lightly, gesturing easily.  He wasn't standing in the center of the group, but he looked like the nucleus of the squad.  It appeared natural.  Somehow, Leonard couldn't shake the feeling that it wasn't.

In the time he’d spent with Jim, he’d slowly realized that the cocky attitude that bordered on arrogance was what Jim used to cover all the cuts, scars, and burns on his soul - a hasty bandage over wounds that refused to heal.  Jim had never said anything about his own past, and Leonard had never asked, but he was a doctor, and he knew how to read people.  Pauses that lasted a few seconds too long when conversation strayed to certain topics, the uneasy tilt of a head when something must have struck too close to home, and how he’d look away while laughing oddly at something that made no sense… yeah, Leonard knew that the kid had a few skeletons in the closet.

But he also knew that in just three months, Jim had already begun to find his footing.  The bandages he wore were becoming a real foundation for growth, just like Leonard was beginning to feel the first tingles of healing as his own wounds began to mend with time and distance from the bullshit that had been his old life.  It wasn't much, but it was a start.  Jim's bandage didn't always fully cover the wounds, which Leonard was sure ran deeper than anyone could guess, but if Jim didn’t crack underneath it, the kid might just have a chance. 

Leonard wanted him to have a chance.

It seemed that all the cadets had arrived, and the instructor, Lieutenant Commander Toland, emerged from the door of the observation deck.  Leonard bristled a bit at her presence.  He'd worked several sims with her as the CO, and cadets always seemed to come out in rougher shape when she ran the show.  She'd been nicknamed Toland the Terrible; Leonard was certain that she was aware of the epithet, and was probably quite proud of it.  She had the philosophy, “Better here than out in the black,” and felt that cadets needed to know their limits as soon as possible.  It was fair, Leonard would grudgingly admit, but he still didn’t like her methods.  It was rumored that she wanted to take over the infamous Kobayashi Maru training sim because she thought it wasn't hard enough.  She seemed to feel that if the cadets beat her scenarios too easily, it was a personal affront.  Ha, I'll bet she just loves Jim, Leonard thought cynically. 

But as she began the briefing, Leonard started to relax.  Toland almost seemed to be in a good mood today.  Not that there was much real damage she could inflict within the constraints of first-year sim regulations, but a good mood never hurt.  I'll bet her coffee wasn't replicated.  Or cold, he thought bitterly as he chugged the rest of his drink, set the canteen aside, and stepped in closer to listen to the pre-sim briefing.

It seemed pretty straightforward today: battle of wits stuff, without much in the way of physical confrontation.  There was always a risk in any live-action simulation, but first-year sims were usually harmless anyway, with little or no medical support required.  With a bit less violence in the scenario, Leonard found himself looking forward to watching this play out.  Really, the cadre who worked as the training sim personnel were damn good at what they did; these simulations were like theatrical performances with the thrilling bite of uncertainty. 

On top of that, today should probably be particularly entertaining; it was the first time he’d get to see Jim in action.  After all the wild stories and boasts Jim liked to spin about how brilliant he was at tactical and diplomatic simulations, Leonard thought it would be nice to actually see the self-professed wonder-boy in action for himself.  Maybe take him down a notch if he screwed up, just to keep his feet on the ground.

The basic mission briefing was simple, and Toland was beginning to hand out role assignments to the cadets.  “Okay, Cadet Nadeau, you’re the Captain today.  Merino, First Officer.  Cadets Ballenger and Kirk, you’re medics.”

Jim turned back to wink at Leonard, who felt a brief flush of heat at that – whether at the idea of Jim as a medic or from the wink itself, he wasn’t sure.

“Cadets Roper, Xiaoming, Larson, and Vielhauer – you’re the security team.  And Cadet Hudson, you’re on communications,” Toland finished.  She tucked her PADD under her arm.  “Until the hostage situation begins, this is still a diplomacy mission, and you’ll be rated on your diplomatic aptitude for that portion of the simulation.  You should have already read the summary of the diplomatic negotiations before arriving here.  The hostage or hostages could be taken from your own team or from the delegation you’re meeting.  Your ship, the Essex, is within transporter and communications range.  All weapons in the simulation are hard-wired to fire well below stun, but they’ll sting a bit.  Security team, you can change the settings on your phasers without actually changing their output.  The simulation computers will respond to the phaser settings you choose without the risk of you accidentally killing someone.  If you get hit, you stay down until a medic clears you.  Medics, your tricorders will give you the false readouts to which you must respond.  Are there any questions?”

Nine cadets shook their heads in unison.  Leonard chuckled silently when he noticed Jim literally on the tips of his toes, eager to begin. 

Commander Toland merely nodded.  “Then secure your gear and be ready to enter the simulation in five minutes.”  She turned and walked to a side door that led to the observation deck.  As soon as the door slid shut behind her, the cadets broke into a buzz of activity.  Jim rushed over to the equipment bench and grabbed a medical tricorder and first aid kit, looking quite pleased with himself. 

Leonard knew that he should hurry and follow the Lieutenant Commander into the observation deck and do a quick check of the simulator’s medical sensors, but he jogged over to Jim, who seemed to be waiting for him.  “Not disappointed at your assignment?” Leonard asked casually.

Jim’s face immediately warped into a mimic of a familiar grimace.  “Dammit Bones, I’m a doctor, not a starship captain!” he grumbled, doing far too good of an impression for Leonard’s comfort. Leonard scowled at him, and Jim laughed.  “I can’t play command or security every time.  Besides, I’m getting top marks in First Responder training, so you get to see that I might be good at patching up injuries, not just collecting them.”

That caught Leonard’s attention.  Every Starfleet cadet took First Responder training, but most command track cadets passed the class and promptly forgot what they’d learned, leaving any real crisis to the actual medics and doctors.  “Ah, I see,” was all Leonard said.

Jim gave a single nod.  “Don’t worry, I won’t kill the simulated patients with my simulated hypospray.”  He pulled the shiny cylinder from the first aid kit and waved it for emphasis.

“I’ll be sure to give you detailed feedback on everything you do wrong, from triage to tourniquets,” Leonard said, finally letting his amusement show in his eyes.

The easy grin on Jim’s face faltered, and he shrugged suddenly and looked down, busying his hands by rummaging around in the med kit, checking the contents.  “Hey, I don’t have to impress you – just the evaluators.  Although it seems like there's nothing I can do to impress the Commander over there.  Toland the Terrible can't stand me because I've beaten every simulation she's ever run. She actually tried to fail me last time because I wasn’t afraid.”  He shook his head irritably.  “Absolute bullshit.  My academic advisor fixed it, but… Toland's been angling to make me crash and burn since I turned her ambush scenario into a picnic.”  Jim glanced up, and a hint of half-sarcastic amusement flickered in his eyes. “Literally."

Leonard raised an eyebrow.  “Oh?”

Jim looked back down at his equipment and snorted.  “She threatened to court martial me if I ever ate an apple in her presence again.”

Leonard decided that he didn’t want to know, and it was okay because Jim let it drop.  He slung the first aid kit’s strap over his shoulder, adjusted it, then glanced back, and for a second, Leonard saw him let a hint of the uncertainty slip through.  “But yeah, can you give me feedback when this is over?”

That actually surprised Leonard.  “Really now?”

Jim nodded.  “Sure.  I don’t care if I’m piloting a shuttlecraft or taking care of an injured crewmate before the real doctors arrive.  When I’m out there in the black, I want to make sure I can handle anything… you know, in case there's nobody else.  I want to be the best.”  The unspoken words, “I have to be the best,” hung in the air, and when Jim’s eyes met Leonard’s, the thought, “because I have to be good enough,” echoed behind them, like a ghost haunting Jim from the back of his mind.  It sent a chill up Leonard’s spine. 

One thing Leonard had begun to suspect about Jim was that he was desperate for validation, even though the kid would never actually ask for it.  Now Leonard was sure of it.  Jim seemed determined to be so good that nobody would ever be able to question his capability.  Inadequacy in any field would shatter his self-worth.  Leonard just hadn’t expected this need to run so deep.

And Leonard also suspected, whether or not Jim recognized this trend in himself or not, was that the kid needed to excel at things that allowed him to take care of others.  It was things like this that made Leonard sure that James T. Kirk would be a great man someday.

Someday, he might even let Jim know that. 

All he said now, however, was, “Sure thing, kid.”

“Thanks, Bones.”  Jim looked quickly over his shoulder.  The rest of the cadets had finished securing their gear, and were crowding together around Nadeau.  “You’d better get to the observation deck.”

Leonard tilted his head in agreement, and he and Jim moved in their separate directions.  When he was almost at the observation deck’s door, he turned and glanced back at the gaggle of command track cadets.  Nadeau was giving quick instructions to his team as the warning beeped three times – the three-minute countdown.  At the back of the group, Jim was fiddling with the controls on the medical tricorder, grinning like a kid with a new toy. 

Leonard smiled to himself.  “Good luck, Jim,” he whispered, then hurried onto the observation deck.

Two technicians manned computer stations that controlled the simulation variables.  Four officers stood facing the observation window, talking amongst themselves.  Leonard couldn’t help but think that they looked like spectators at a horse race, waiting for the starting gate to burst open.  That's when he was struck with a jolt of surprise – the realization that Captain Pike was amongst them.  Pike was the Commandant of Cadets.  It made no sense for him to waste his time on a basic drill for a group of freshman cadets. 

“Lieutenant Commander Toland,” Captain Pike was saying, with more than a hint of irritation hiding thinly in his tone, “I thought I asked you to assign him as First Officer for this simulation.”

Leonard pressed his lips together in nervous amusement.  And it looks like Jim isn't the only person butting heads with her.

Commander Toland actually fidgeted under Pike’s gaze.  “I didn’t think it was that important, Captain.  He's demonstrated his ability to lead in many other simulations, but he hasn’t learned to follow.  We need to see how he functions when he’s not in control, so we stuck with the planned assignments.”

Pike opened his mouth again, but his words died unspoken when he looked past Toland’s shoulder noticed Leonard staring at them.  A carefully controlled smile tugged one corner of his mouth upwards.  “Doctor McCoy, my apologies.  Please.”  He tilted his head to indicate that he wanted Leonard to join the discussion.

Leonard wasn’t quite able to keep the startled look off his own face.  He’d gotten so used to Academy cadre calling him “Cadet” that it was a pleasant surprise when they gave him the respect of using his professional title.  It was an even bigger surprise that the Commandant of Cadets knew him by name.  “Sir?” he asked hesitantly as he walked over.  His gut told him that he knew exactly what the cadre had been discussing when he walked in, even though he didn’t really want to believe it.

Pike looked him over with a critical eye that managed not to be unfriendly.  “You know Cadet Kirk quite well, yes?”

“Yes, Captain, fairly well.”  He did his best to keep his expression neutral, despite his confusion.

“Professional opinion, personal opinion… I don’t care which you give me, but please humor the question – how do you think Cadet Kirk will perform in the role of a medic?  Do you think he’s capable of functioning as a minor player and taking orders?”

I am not fucking qualified to answer this goddamned question, Leonard thought, his breath catching.  And even if I was… goddammit, how am I supposed to answer that?  He licked his lower lip, feeling very much like he was facing a firing squad.  “Honest opinion, Sir?” he ventured uneasily.

“That’s why I asked.”

In for a penny, he thought, and took a deep breath.  “I think Kirk can take orders as long as the orders make sense to him, but I don’t think he’d know how to be a minor player, even if he was nothing more than a stowaway on a starship.  I think that if he was a medic, he’d find a way to save the universe with a roll of gauze, a tricorder, and a hypospray.”

Toland looked pissed. 

Pike seemed to consider his answer, with an enigmatic smile just barely showing in his eyes, but as he opened his mouth again, the one-minute warning alarm sounded.  He set his face neutrally, but Leonard was sure he could still see that hint of satisfaction behind the impartial expression.  “Thank you, Doctor.”  He nodded towards the observation deck controls.  “We’d best get ready for them to start.”

Still feeling uneasy about the unusual exchange, McCoy hurried over to the medical station.  Why the hell would someone like Captain Pike give a shit about Jim?  He pushed the thought out of his head.  There was no time to consider it, with the simulation about to start.

Once at his station, Leonard hurriedly set to work cross-checking the training roster against the medical records of each cadet in the simulation and running a quick diagnostic on the internal biosensors.  It was required by regulation for every cadet in the sim to be monitored constantly.  Although today's training wasn't supposed to be risky, anything could happen, and he had to be ready.

The first time he’d worked a training simulation, he hadn't been ready.  He'd been assigned to a sim for third-year cadets on the security forces track.  It had taken him by surprise – shocked the hell out of him, really – when he suddenly found himself treating real phaser burns, broken ribs, lacerations, and worse.  And then, when they'd told him that it was standard training procedure, it was all he could do keep from launching into a tirade in front of the sim cadre and all the cadets.  He'd bitten his tongue at the time, and after a while, he'd forced himself to rationalize it.  In some sick, twisted way, he could admit that it made sense.  In the middle of an emergency, Starfleet officers would need to be ready to function even when injured, and would have to cope with their crewmates also being injured.  In the unforgiving vacuum of space, there was no room for error.  They had to know what they'd really be facing.  Still, he had a hard time accepting the medical necessity of permitting these injuries to occur.

He didn’t know how he’d handle it when his own friends were getting injured needlessly.

Of course, that only reminded him again why it was necessary.  Sure, he was a doctor, and had seen casualties from more than a few catastrophic emergencies.  There had been deaths, but that was a standard part of his profession.  Risky surgeries, accidents… things happened.  But aside from his father’s death – which had been slow and wrenching, not the bloody maelstrom of a trauma scene – he had no experience watching close friends and colleagues die. Stationed on a ship with the same people for months on end, he was sure he’d get to know them pretty well.  He was also sure that it would only be a matter of time before one of them was killed.

In the back of his mind, he pictured Jim materializing on a transporter pad of some goddamned tin can of a space ship, little more than a bloody heap of tattered uniform and mangled limbs.  It was something he didn’t want to think about, much less experience, but he knew it was a fair possibility.  If he couldn’t handle a simulation now, with non-life-threatening injuries in a controlled environment, he’d never be able to handle an emergency in space.

Besides, today should be easy. 

Leonard looked up from his computer station as the biosensor readouts began popping to life, one by one, as the cadets entered the simulation room.  Knowing that the computer would alert him if something went wrong, he stepped away from the medic’s station and walked closer to the viewport window so he could watch the simulation directly.

The simulation room was fully set up to look like a formal diplomatic conference room.  It was spacious with high ceilings, large columns, and a massive table.  A small diplomatic entourage was waiting to receive the Starfleet delegation.  While most of the cadets hung back, keeping themselves in a basic landing party formation near the door, Cadet Nadeau stepped forward, followed closely by Merino as they formally greeted the head Ambassador.

“Ambassador Krae’vex, it is my pleasure to extend greetings on behalf of the United Federation of Planets,” Nadeau said smoothly, with a small bow.  “I'm Captain Nadeau of the Federation starship Essex.  Please allow me to introduce my First Officer, Commander Merino.”

“The pleasure is all mine, Captain Nadeau and Commander Merino of the starship Essex,” the Ambassador replied.  Although Leonard knew that these were merely other Starfleet Academy instructors filling the roles of these aliens, he was always impressed with how convincingly they filled the fictional shoes.  The Ambassador continued.  “Please, make yourself comfortable so that we may become acquainted.  The negotiations will begin when the rest of our Council Members arrive.  They should be here shortly.  Come!  There are refreshments.  Allow your team to rest.  I know the journey from your home planet has been long.”

The remainder of the cadets began to move further into the room, relaxing and fanning out.  Nadeau smiled.  “My appreciation, Ambassador.  First, would you allow my security team to inspect the facility?”

The Ambassador instantly became irritable.  “Captain, do you suggest that my own people are not capable of securing a conference room in our own capital building?”

The entire team froze.  Leonard heard the beep from the biosensors as Nadeau’s heart rate showed its first little spike.  Perfectly normal.  On the floor, Nadeau didn’t skip a beat, nor did he show his nervousness. 

“Not at all, Ambassador,” he said smoothly.  “I merely offer the services of my security team to assist your own excellent staff in safeguarding this summit.  The Federation places the highest priority on these negotiations, and I have been instructed to use all of my resources to support the safety and success of this mission.”  He paused, then bowed again.  “I will, of course, defer to your customs.”

The Ambassador stared at him for a long moment, then let out a raucous laugh.  “Your Federation is most considerate.”  He turned and called back over his shoulder.  “Sou’kar, come.”

Another member of the delegation stepped forwards from his post beside the door.  “Yes, your Excellency?” 

The Ambassador inclined his head.  “Captain Nadeau, this is my Chief of Security, Sou’kar.  He would be happy to escort your team around the perimeter of conference room and demonstrate our fine security measures.  Then, they may report to your Federation how thorough and cautious we are in protecting such an important summit.  Please, while they work, indulge yourself in some of our hospitality.”

Three of the security cadets began to follow Sou’kar around the room, leaving Larson to hover just a few feet away from Nadeau as the Captain's dedicated security guard, per standard protocol.  Readouts from the security team's tricorders began to fill the observation computer screens.  Their conversation with Sou'kar was pointed yet polite as they gathered security information.  Cadet Hudson’s communication relay activated and his voice came softly over the comm, requesting sensor readings from the Essex.  Nadeau and Merino’s voices bounced back and forth amiably with the Ambassador’s voice as they followed standard diplomatic protocol – essentially making professional small-talk.  And…

“What the hell is he doing?”  One of the techs gestured in surprise at the computer readout. 

Leonard craned his neck to look at the monitor, and recognized readings from a medical tricorder on the screen.  Curious, he looked back down at the sim floor and saw Jim, tucked off to one side of the room, almost out of sight, leaning lightly against a decorative column.  He was fiddling with the medical tricorder, just as he had been before he’d entered the training sim room.  Leonard glanced back up and saw Pike studying the computer readouts.  A knowing grin blossomed across the Captain's face, and he hit one of the comm controls.  “Atkinson, find out what Kirk is doing.”  The amusement in his voice was palpable. 

On the sim floor, the Ambassador ceased talking to Nadeau and Merino as he looked up and “suddenly” noticed Kirk.  “Ah, Captain, it seems that one of your security staff has neglected to follow Sou’kar,” he said as he strolled across the floor, the two leadership cadets scurrying behind him.

“Ambassador, this is Ensign Kirk, one of our medics,” Nadeau said, quickly catching up as the Ambassador stepped up to Jim.

Jim had clearly seen them coming, and had let the tricorder slip down by his side, hanging innocently from its strap.  He greeted the Ambassador with a gracious bow.  “Ambassador, my apologies if I’ve done something to offend you.”

Ambassador Krae’vex – Atkinson, Leonard reminded himself, but it was easier to think of them in their training roles – shook his head, seeming jolly enough.  “No, Ensign Kirk, but I had assumed that you were security as you were using your sensor equipment, and wondered why you had not joined the rest of your team.”

“No, Ambassador.  I’m just a medic.”

Krae’vex tilted his head and frowned. 

Nadeau looked suspicious.  “Is there a medical issue of concern, Ensign Kirk?”

Jim shook his head, appearing contrite.  The emotion seemed misplaced on him, but he made it look convincing.  “No, no, Captain.  I'm sorry, I was having some trouble with my tricorder earlier when I ran my regular diagnostic on it, and I was just trying to spend a moment to fix it while waiting for the formalities to begin."  He turned towards the Krae'vex.  "It’s just a medical tool, Ambassador, not a security sensor.  It’s fixed now.  See?”  He scanned himself and showed the readout to the Ambassador with a grin.  “Fully functional human being.”

Nadeau cleared his throat.  “I am sorry, Ambassador.  This is Ensign Kirk’s first away mission, and he may have been unaware that he’s being rude.”

Even from the observation deck, Leonard swore he could see Jim’s muscles clench in irritation, but the Ambassador actually laughed.  “I do not find him rude, Captain.  My people respect those who show dedication to their chosen professions.  How does your sensor device – a tricorder, you called it? – how does it work?”

Grinning even more broadly, Jim demonstrated the instrument by scanning the Ambassador, who expressed interest in the technology, and suggested that one of the aspects of the negotiations should include an exchange of medical techniques and advances.  As Krae'vex turned away from Jim and began walking towards the negotiations table with Nadeau, Jim caught Merino's arm. 

Looking flustered, Merino let herself be held back.  "What on Earth are you doing, Kirk?" she hissed, audible to the observation deck only because of the audio sensors trained on each person in the simulation.

"I'm processing the baseline scan I just obtained on Sarvoskan physiology," he said in an undertone, patting the tricorder fondly.  "He even willingly let me take the scan.  Now we've got a basis of comparison."

"And why the hell do we need that?"

"Security," Jim whispered back.  "Like an old-fashioned lie-detector test.  If anyone here suddenly sets off the tricorder's biosensors for an unknown reason with a sudden spike in heart rate, it might mean we have a traitor in our midst."

Leonard felt his jaw drop as a hot flood of pride welled up in him.  He wasn't sure why he felt proud – he'd only known Jim for a few months, and to be honest, he barely knew him at all, but still…

Merino frowned.  "And how do you plan to let our team know if you pick out a traitor this way without causing a panic?"

"I've set my tricorder to cross-transmit to the entire security team and directly to the Essex.  All on silent-mode.  I’ll let them know."

Merino gave Jim one sharp look, then nodded.  "Okay, Kirk.  Just don't fuck it up."

Jim was the picture of innocence.  "Me?  Fuck it up?  I'm just a medic!"

Merino shook her head and hurried off to join back into the diplomatic conversation with Nadeau and the Ambassador.

On the observation deck, Pike was chuckling heartily. 

Toland didn't seem so amused.  "He should be pulled from the simulation, Captain," she said coldly.  "He's altered the training equipment outside of the parameters we gave him."

Pike shook his head.  "No, he didn't, Commander.  Take a look."  He pointed at the readouts on the screen.  Leonard took a step closer so he could see, too.  "Kirk's tricorder will still get all the fake readings from the simulation, but he's also got it set to scan the entire cadre for sudden changes in heart rate and respiration.  He'd be able to do that on a real mission, so we can't take that away from him if he thought of it himself.  Besides, his excuse satisfied Atkinson."

Toland made a low growling sound in her throat, but jerked her head in what passed for a nod of agreement.  Damn, Jim wasn't kidding, Leonard mused.  She really can't stand him.  I wonder what else he’s done to piss her off so badly.  The other two officers on the deck were nodding solemnly and taking notes on PADD’s, clearly far more neutral on the matter. 

In the meantime, the rest of the Sarvoskan delegation began to enter through the far door, greeting Nadeau and bowing politely to each cadet they passed.  The security team began to position themselves around the table as led by two attendants.  Hudson informed the Essex that the negotiations were beginning and told them to stand by.  Ballenger, who had been quietly standing near Hudson until that point, went to stand by Jim, who had waved him over.  A moment later, Ballenger was quickly inputting the same modifications to his own tricorder, unnoticed by the rest of the people in the sim as they all milled around and chatted amiably on their way to their seats. 

Soon, everyone had found their way to their places; Krae'vex stood at the head of the table and Nadeau at the opposite end, with other members of both delegations seated and interspersed between each other.  The Ambassador tapped a small chime to call the room to attention.  "Delegates of the Federation, on behalf of the people of Sarvos, we wish to formally welcome you to our planet, and state our intention to petition for entry into the United Federation of Planets."  He bowed towards Nadeau.

Nadeau cleared his throat.  Another soft beeping from the medical station computers let Leonard know that the kid was nervous, but perfectly within parameters.  He was still holding himself well.  "Ambassador Krae'vex, members of the Council, on behalf of the United Federation of Planets, I am honored to have the opportunity to meet with you, and to discuss the terms on which Sarvos may be welcomed into the Federation."

The Ambassador bowed, grinning broadly.  "Then let us begin!  First, allow me to introduce our Minister of Trade, Minister Tre'dalk." 

One of the Sarvoskan delegates stood and bowed.  "Captain, it is an honor to meet you."

As Nadeau bowed in return, the trill of a hailing signal sounded on the observation deck.  One of the technicians pulled up the transmission from the sim floor.  "Commander, the Essex is receiving a transmission from Kirk's medical tricorder."

Leonard's gaze fell heavily on Jim, who had barely moved in his seat, but was subtly looking down at the readout screen on his tricorder, which was resting on his lap, out of view of the other delegates. Jim glanced up, not at Tre'dalk, but at the delegate sitting next to Tre'dalk, and then also at one of the Sarvoskan personnel standing guard by the door.  While Jim’s face remained relaxed and painted with a pleasantly neutral smile, his hand slowly went to his phaser, unnoticed by anyone else in the room,

The technician continued to read the transmission.  "Kirk's tricorder shows suspicious readings which indicate that two of the Sarvoskan delegates may be intending to disrupt the summit.  Hudson has sent an automated request for the Essex transporters to stand by."

Minister Tre'dalk continued his introduction, unaware of the sensor readings the team was getting and the transmissions being sent, as not a single cadet gave any outward indication that they were preparing for the attack.  "Our planet is rich in most minerals and metals, but we are unable to meet our needs for copper and nickel.  Our northern continent contains rich deposits of dilithium.  I would like to open the table for discussions regarding a trade arrangement for these key minerals –"

“NO!”  The Sarvoskan sitting next to Minister Tre’dalk jumped up and pulled a weapon from his cloak.  In the span of a heartbeat, he’d aimed at the minister and fired a shot, hitting him at point-blank range. 

The entire security team was already on their feet, phasers in their hands, firing, but the assailant managed to dodge the first volley.  He grabbed the nearest body – Cadet Ballenger – and turned him into a human shield.  Simultaneously, the Sarvoskan Jim had sighted near the door had pulled out a large rifle-type weapon and fired the first shot directly at Nadeau.  Nadeau went down, and the security team split their aim between the two newly revealed enemies.  The first Sarvoskan had Ballenger in a choke hold under one arm, the weapon pressed to his temple, and the second attacker was now aiming directly at Ambassador Krae’vex.

Stale mate, Leonard thought.  In the observation room, the automated distress call from Hudson’s comm sounded, but without a message.  The Essex couldn’t respond until it received specific instructions, but at least he’d managed to send out an alert.  On the medical station’s monitor screens, readouts from each cadet, especially Ballenger, showed increased stress levels, but everything was within normal limits.  The officers on the deck were glued to the window.

The assailant holding Ballenger spoke.  “You will put down your weapons and hear our demands, or I will kill him.  Put them down now!”

Merino, who had also tried to move towards Nadeau the instant he’d been hit, stood upright and faced the attacker.  “The Federation does not negotiate with terrorists,” she said, even as the security team lowered their phasers.

“I care not for your Federation!” he snarled, shaking Ballenger.  “We challenge our own government!  They are the terrorist organization!  They would strip-mine the northern continent at the expense of my people, laying waste and creating toxic runoff.  Your metal ores are worthless if my people are poisoned for your precious dilithium.”

“Bae’len, why did you not say this before?” Ambassador Krae’vex asked softly, as if he knew this person intimately.  He didn’t even react to the weapon that the second person was pointing at him.

“And be excluded from these negotiations?” Bae’len spat.  “You would silence us.  Now, we will be heard.”

He squeezed Ballenger’s neck even tighter, causing Ballenger to struggle a little bit as his face went red.  Leonard quickly checked Ballenger’s readout – oxygen saturation was starting to drop, but he was in no danger yet.

“And you would destroy our planet’s chance to join the Federation?  You may have killed their Captain!”  He held out his hands, pleading.  ‘Bae’len, please.  Let us reason.  Have Pre’jal lower his weapon, and we may discuss this.”

“Have you heard nothing?" he snarled.  "We do not want Sarvos to join the Federation!  We will discuss my terms, and only my terms, or this human dies!”

It was only a split second before the phaser shot flashed through the room that Leonard realized he hadn’t seen Jim since the first terrorist had jumped up.  The shot appeared out of nowhere, and striking Bae’len in the back.  Before he’d even begun to slip to the floor, and before anyone else could react, a second shot streaked across the room and hit Pre’jal, who promptly dropped his weapon and slumped to the ground.  A second later, Jim slipped out from behind one of the columns, his phaser aimed at the body of the now-unconscious attacker.

I don’t know how the hell he does it, Leonard thought to himself, impressed.

“How the hell did he do that?” Toland muttered.

Pike chuckled.  “He saw it coming, and at the first shot, he hit the floor and rolled behind that oversized houseplant before sneaking around behind the column.  I was watching for it.  He did it while everyone else was looking the other way.  That’s the one spot in the entire room where both of the terrorists couldn’t have seen him.”

While the Sarvoskan security personnel swept in and secured the unconscious terrorists, dragging them from the room, Jim was already racing across the floor towards Nadeau, who was dutifully playing dead, but looking quite chagrinned about the whole situation.  “How’d ya do it, Kirk?” he whispered.

“Quiet now, Captain,” Jim said as he started scanning him.  “You’re dead until I say so.”

On the other side of the room, Ballenger had recovered enough to begin scanning the Sarvoskan Council Member who had been hit.  He was shaking his head to himself – the Council Member had been killed in the simulation, so there was nothing further to do for him.  Ballenger got to his feet unsteadily.  He was rubbing his neck, which was already showing a mess of bruises.  He turned and began offering diplomatic apologies to the other Sarvoskan delegates.

Leonard frowned and looked down at his bioscanner readouts.  The cadre member playing the role of Bae’len had really done a number on Ballenger’s neck.  Nothing critical, but the kid had some minor trachea damage and would surely bruise up heavily without a round with a tissue regenerator.  Blood flow had been disrupted slightly, and he was surely starting to get a nasty headache.  The ordeal had also left him in a mild state of shock, which meant as soon as the natural adrenaline wore off, he was going to be pretty useless.  Even from there, Leonard could see that Ballenger’s lips were a bit pale.  But still, the kid was technically within parameters to continue the simulation, and would stay unless someone – Jim – decided to pull him out.  And of course, Jim wouldn’t notice something minor like that, so Ballenger would be in there until the end of the sim.

Meanwhile, the security team had fanned out and stationed themselves around the room, coordinating smoothly with the Sarvoskan guards and establishing a perimeter.  Hudson had pulled out his communicator and was rapidly relaying information to the Essex, following the standard situation report format, requesting sensor reports from orbit, and warning of possible casualties requiring assistance. 

On the observation deck, the tech at the comm station replied neutrally, mixing with the beeps and whines of computer equipment, creating a low buzz of background noise on the observation deck.  Leonard also overheard Commander Toland speaking irritably over the comm and arguing stoically with Pike, but he put it out of his mind.  He’d promised Jim that he’d evaluate his performance as a medic, so now that he’d established that nobody required his own medical care, he could pay attention to Jim.

By then, Merino had joined Jim and Nadeau.  The Ambassador was quickly walking towards them from across the sim room, patting his face nervously with a handkerchief.  “Commander Merino, and… dear gods, Ensign Kirk?  It was you who stopped the attack?”

“Yes, Ambassador,” Jim said as he continued his scan of Nadeau, studied the results, and began fishing around in his med kit.

"I am… grateful, Ensign," the Ambassador said, exhaling heavily.  "Your Captain… will he recover?"

Jim said nothing as pulled the simulator hypospray out of the med kit and pressed a series of codes.  Leonard watched the computer readout as it indicated that Jim was giving the patient a dose of painkiller, tri-ox compound, and a cardiac stimulant.  The program sent a signal back to his tricorder that Nadeau was responding.  “The Captain will be okay, but we need to send him back to the Essex quickly.  There’s some bleeding and nerve damage from the blast, but it missed his major organs," he said as he continued to work, now activating a vascular stabilizer and placing it over the spot that his tricorder had indicated there was a bleeding wound. 

“Am I awake yet?” Nadeau whispered.

“No.  Shut up,” Jim muttered back, scanning again.  The tricorder told him that the bleeding was under control now, and that Nadeau was classified as serious but stable.  Leonard had to admit, Jim was doing a decent job, and really seemed to be taking the role seriously.  It was… nice to see.

Then Jim looked up at Merino.  “How’s the Council Member?”

Merino glanced back and caught Ballenger’s eye; Ballenger shook his head, excused himself from the delegates who had been talking to him, and crossed the room.  He bowed solemnly to Ambassador Krae’vex.  “I’m sorry, Ambassador.  Your Council Member died instantly.”

Merino took a deep breath.  “I must extend my apologies as well, Ambassador.”

Ambassador Krae’vex hung his head.  “It is a risk we all take.  Do not offer your apologies to me, Commander Merino.  Our security has failed you as well as ourselves.  It is I who should apologize to you.  We did not know that there were any with such strong dissident leanings or sympathies with the separatists on the northern continent amongst the High Council.”

Jim’s head shot up.  “High Council… Ambassador, sorry for asking, but how extensive is the security clearance and access for members of the High Council?  And what about their staff members?”

The Ambassador waved his hands, as if surprised to be stating the obvious.  “They all have the highest security clearances, and access to the entire facility –”

Jim jumped to his feet.  “Commander, this room isn’t secure yet.” 

Merino’s mouth was open as she stared at Jim.  “How do you know that, Kirk?”

Jim gave her a scathing look.  “Do you think this is over, Commander?”

The Ambassador was suddenly nodding vigorously.  “If Bae’len’s intent was to sabotage the summit, then it is unlikely that he would have neglected a redundant plan.  Those who are loyal to him may still be a threat.  I shall notify my staff to secure the building.”  He hurried away, leaving the small group of Federation delegates. 

Merino looked at Jim, hesitated, then said in a low tone.  “I think you’re right.” 

Jim nodded, looking back and forth between Merino and Ballenger.  Then he frowned, grabbed his tricorder, and quickly scanned the other medic.  “You’re injured, too, Ballenger.  That guy got your neck harder than you might realize."  He leaned in and spoke in an undertone as he gave Ballenger a serious look.  "And that's not a simulated injury."

Leonard felt yet another vicarious flash of pride, matched with a heavy dose of surprise.  He caught it.  Well I'll be damned.

Jim turned back to Merino.  "Commander Merino, I suggest that you send Ballenger back to the ship with the Captain so we can help the Sarvoskans secure the room.”

“I agree,” Merino said evenly.  She spun on her heel.  “Hudson, contact the Essex and have them beam up the Captain and Ensign Ballenger.  Then tell them to stand by for emergency transport of all personnel at the first sign of further trouble.”

A second later, Cadet Hudson’s voice sounded on the observation deck.  “Ensign Hudson to Essex.  Inform sickbay to be ready to receive two patients, one with serious injuries.  Prepare to transport the Captain and Ensign Ballenger.”

The tech at the comm station replied.  “Essex standing by.  Ready to transport.”

“Energize.” 

In a shimmer of light that always made Leonard uneasy to watch, and even more nervous to experience, Ballenger and Nadeau disappeared from the sim floor and reappeared on the transporter pad of the observation deck. 

Nadeau stood up, shaking his head unhappily as he pulled off the fake vascular stabilizer.  “When I get my first real command, I hope I don’t die ten minutes into it.”

Pike rounded on him with a rock-hard stare.  “You lasted twelve minutes, Cadet.  And let me tell you something – sometimes that’s all it takes for greatness.  Go have a seat and watch the rest.  Try to learn something.”

Leonard vaguely registered what Pike had said.  He quickly moved in and cornered Cadet Ballenger.  “Come here, Cadet,” he said gruffly, taking him by the arm, “and let me take a look at that.”  He wasn't surprised that Ballenger wasn't exactly steady on his feet, and actually seemed to need someone to lead him.  Once he was seated by the medical station, Leonard scanned him, only to realize that he almost didn’t need to.  Jim’s scan had been thorough and accurate. 

Ballenger held up his hands, staring at them blankly; they were shaking now.  “Damn… I had no idea that he’d wrung me that hard.  Shit, I don’t feel too good.”

“Neck injuries are nothing to sneeze at,” Leonard said, a bit softer this time, knowing that the kid probably had a splitting headache on top of the nausea and shakes.  He pulled out a hypospray and loaded it with a real painkiller and something for nerves.  He wanted to growl about how unnecessary it was for a member of the cadre to be quite so rough, but he kept his thoughts to himself as he pressed the hypospray against Ballenger’s neck.  A moment later, the tissue regenerators were humming away to heal the damage to his trachea, and the gray pallor of Ballenger’s lips had turned a slightly more human shade of pink.  Leonard clenched his jaw, both annoyed and pacified; the kid would be fine, of course.  He still just didn't accept the necessity of this sort of thing.

He told Ballenger to relax, and turned his attention back to the simulation.  The rest of the cadets were scrambling around the sim floor, setting up security measures and communicating rapidly with the observation deck techs, who were functioning as both the Essex and the Sarvoskan security network.  Off to the side, Leonard noticed Pike standing forward with his arms folded over his chest.  He looked irritated but determined, which confused Leonard, and if he were honest with himself, concerned him a bit.  At a control station at the back of the observation deck, Lieutenant Commander Toland was snapping orders into a comm unit, and Leonard barely caught the gist of what was going on before she spun around and barked at the tech, "Cut communication and transporter capabilities now."

Two switches were rapidly flipped, a few commands were tapped into the computer, and Leonard finally caught on.  This isn’t a goddamned standard first year sim anymore. 

It only took the cadets on the sim floor seconds to notice.

"Commander Merino," Hudson called out.  "We've just lost communications with the Essex!"

Merino's head whipped around, and she was striding across the room.  "Why?  What's blocking our signal?"

"I don't know, Commander.  Something is scrambling our communicators… and our transporters."  Hudson looked up, his face composed but clearly pensive.  "We're completely cut off."

"Commander, our people are picking up a blocking signal," Security Chief Sou'kar said, leaning across the table.  "We can't find its source, but we can only assume that the dissidents are attempting to cut us off."

From where he'd been working with the security team, Jim turned and faced the leaders.  "Commander, we need to clear this room.  They're going to start coming in for us, and we've only got one exit now that transporters are down.  We can't wait for them."

Sou'kar nodded.  "I agree.  Ambassador, Commander, we should evacuate."  He moved towards the exit, but the door didn't respond to his approach.  Quickly, he punched several buttons on the keypad, but nothing happened.  He tried it again, but to no avail.  After a moment, he turned and faced the room, his expression grim.  "We're trapped."

Leonard barely saw the nod of Toland's head at one of the techs when suddenly viewscreen at the head of the sim room flashed to life.  "Ambassador Krae'vex," said the gravelly voice of the Sarvoskan on the screen.  Two other Sarvoskans stood behind him.  "It is clear that our gentler attempt at negotiations has been circumvented.  Our leader, Bae'len, has not signaled us in the past ten minutes, and that can only indicate that he has been disabled.  That is unacceptable.  Clearly, these negotiations must be handled more stringently."  He lowered his head menacingly.  "You may be willing to sacrifice the blood of your own people, Krae'vex, but how will you respond to a threat to one of your precious Federation leeches?"

Suddenly, a transporter beam was engaged.  Leonard looked frantically around the sim room, even though he already knew who had been taken.  A second later, the Sarvoskan in the middle of the screen stepped aside, allowing a full view of other two dissidents, who were holding a struggling Jim Kirk between them.